The Sonics selected Nick Collison and Luke Ridnour in the first round of the 2003 Draft.
Looking to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, the Seattle SuperSonics entered the summer of 2003 with a pair of picks in the first half of the first round of the 2004 NBA Draft. Following the May 22 Draft Lottery, the Sonics ended up with their own 12th pick and the 14th pick, acquired from Milwaukee in a deal at the trade deadline.
After rampant trade speculation, the Sonics hung on to both picks and looked to fill their two most pressing needs, at power forward and point guard. They were able to draft a pair of college stars, Kansas big man Nick Collison and Oregon guard Luke Ridnour, a native of Blaine, WA. In free agency, the Sonics lost backup point guard Kevin Ollie but were quickly able to replace him by signing Antonio Daniels away from Portland. As training camp got underway, the Sonics rounded out their roster by re-signing forward Reggie Evans to a two-year deal and signing-and-trading center Predrag Drobnjak to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Training camp and preseason action would prove costly for the Sonics. Although the team completed its preseason schedule at 6-2, they lost a pair of players to serious injuries. Collison's season was ended when he subluxed his left shoulder shortly after the Sonics began practicing, and he would eventually have both shoulders surgically repaired. Later, star shooting guard Ray Allen was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle after "loose bodies" were discovered.
Without Allen, the Sonics traveled overseas to open their season against the Los Angeles Clippers in Japan. With only a few hearty souls listening back in Seattle, the Sonics defeated the Clippers 109-100
in a game that began at 2 a.m. Pacific time. Two days later, the Sonics completed a Japan sweep of the Clippers with a 124-105 rout
that was notable for forward Rashard Lewis
becoming just the fourth player in team history to score 50 points in a game
, finishing with an even 50 on 17-for-25 shooting.
Thanks to a lengthy layoff after returning home, the Sonics became the NBA's last unbeaten team. They ran that streak to three games with a 100-82 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in their home opener before dropping a 91-81 decision to the Atlanta Hawks.
The story in the early going was shooting guard Ronald "Flip" Murray, who replaced Allen in the starting lineup and did a fair approximation of him, scoring 20 points or more in each of the Sonics first six games and 11 of the first twelve. Murray's game-winning buzzer-beater capped his 29-point effort in an 89-87 victory at Minnesota.
The Sonics were 6-2 when they returned home from a four-game road trip, but could not sustain the momentum at home, losing three of four on the ensuing homestand. A 98-81 loss at Utah dropped the Sonics to 7-6 and prompted Coach Nate McMillan to replace Murray in the starting lineup with Daniels. The Sonics responded with two straight wins to start a streaky month of December.
Murray got off to a quick start before being replaced in the starting lineup.
Heading back East, however, the Sonics lost four straight games before responding to McMillan's challenge by holding Detroit to 72 points in a 93-72 win
. They went on to go 2-3 in their next five games to sit 12-13 when Allen made his heroic return from the injured list on Dec. 23 against Phoenix, a 116-90
Sonics romp that saw Allen score 24 points in 23 minutes.
Despite blowout losses to a pair of the West's top teams, Minnesota and Sacramento, the Sonics played some of their best basketball of the season after Allen's return. They closed 2003 with back-to-back road wins against playoff-bound Houston and Memphis, opened up 2004 with a 111-109 win over the L.A. Lakers with Allen scoring the winning shot, and then swept a three-game homestand, overcoming an 18-point deficit to beat Portland in overtime thanks to Allen's 42 points, 20 of them in the fourth quarter alone, and winning a rematch with the Kings.
The East Coast again proved challenging for the Sonics. After losing 104-96 to Cleveland in LeBron James' Seattle debut, despite 10 blocks from center Calvin Booth, the Sonics lost three of four on their road trip to slip to 20-20.
Returning home, the Sonics got a pair of much-needed victories before embarking on a stretch of six games that featured five against the West's top teams. The Sonics dropped all five, but the bigger loss was starting point guard Brent Barry, who broke a bone in his right ring finger in a 118-116 loss to Dallas. Without Barry, the Sonics struggled in the month of February, going 5-9 even after the schedule softened slightly.
Barry's loss proved difficult for the Sonics to overcome.
The highlight of the month was All-Star weekend. Playing in the got milk? Rookie Challenge, Murray scored 25 points and handed out a game-high 10 assists
. Lewis had 16 points in the first round, but that was not enough to advance in the Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout
. In Sunday's main event, Allen (selected despite his injury as a reserve) had 16 points in a 136-132 West victory
At the end of February, the schedule toughened again. The Sonics entered a stretch of seven games against playoff teams with a three-game losing streak. After a much-needed blowout win in Houston to start a four-game road trip, the Sonics dropped their next six games to sink nearly out of playoff contention at 27-38, their low-water mark of the season.
Though Barry had returned during the losing streak, he was not re-elevated to the starting lineup until Mar. 13 in Orlando. The move paid immediate dividends, with the Sonics coming up with a 115-101 win that started a season-long seven-game win streak. By beating two of their main competitors for the eighth playoff seed in the West, Denver and Utah, the Sonics returned to the playoff picture.
That stay was short-lived, as the Sonics ran out of gas late in March. A three-game road-trip sweep ended their playoff hopes for all intents and purposes, and they were officially eliminated on Apr. 2 with a loss to the Lakers. McMillan used the remainder of the season to experiment with mixed results. Starting Ridnour at the point paid off as he scored 16 points and handed out a career-high 13 assists in a 119-109 demolition of Dallas, but he followed it up with four fouls and zero points in a loss to Houston in the home finale. The Sonics finished the season the way they started it, blowing out the L.A. Clippers, 118-87, their most lopsided victory of the season, to finish with a 37-45 record.
Despite injuries, Allen had an outstanding season.
Despite missing 26 games, Allen had one of the best seasons of his career. His averages of 23.0 points and 4.8 assists per game were both career bests, and Allen continued to be one of the NBA's most lethal three-point shooters. After Allen's return, Lewis struggled to capitalize on the momentum he'd built over the season's first two months, but he was again the Sonics leading rebounder and second-leading scorer.
Murray started just 18 games, but was the Sonics third-leading scorer at 12.4 points per game and one of the top bench scorers in the league. Coming off of a rookie season in which he played just 62 minutes, that made him one of the league's most improved players. Forward Vladimir Radmanovic gave the Sonics a second high-scoring reserve in the second half and continued his steady development, improving his scoring and rebounding averages again in his third season.
Barry was one of the league's most efficient shooters, canning 50.4% of his shots, 45.2% from three-point range, and 82.7% from the line. He led the Sonics with 5.8 assists per game. In the middle, veteran Vitaly Potapenko emerged as the starter down the stretch thanks to his physical defense and solid scoring punch. He averaged 9.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in 39 starts. Daniels had a career year off the bench, leading the NBA with a 4.89 assist/turnover ratio. Ridnour had an up-and-down rookie campaign, as expected, but showed great promise and shot 47.1% from the field in the second half.